The Aubertin organ in St Louis’s Church (France).

Masterpiece in danger!
Salmons at the bottom 
of the pedal towers.

«Gilding is used here and there, to enliven the wooden case-front (pipe-mouths, decorative spheres). To the natural oak and to the polished tin of the display-pipes, time will bring its special patina eventually. Waxing of any kind was unnecessary and would even have been detrimental, as it would only cause dirty deposits from the heating-system and candle-smoke to cling to the surfaces all the more, so that the whole instrument would be unpleasantly blackened after some years.»

Bernard Aubertin,
Inauguration booklet, Nov. 1990

Masterpiece in danger

The candle-smut and the effects of the church’s heating-system, mentioned when the organ was new, have, between them, had a far worse effect than even the experienced organ-builder foresaw at that time. Fifteen years after its inauguration, at Epiphany in 1991 (with the participation of Michel Chapuis, Gaston Litaize and François-Henri Houbard), the organ has become unusable for concerts.

The walls and vaults of Saint-Louis were freshly painted when the organ was installed, but an antiquated and unsatisfactory heating-system has brought a sorry change to the church’s interior appearance: besmirching the surfaces throughout, begriming the woodwork, and spoiling (among other things) the large Osbert painting in the choir through the trickling onto it of grimly water from the glass above. The heating-system is to be blamed for a destructive effect on certain parts of the organ, particularly. It has caused a black, greasy and acidic deposit to be laid on the organ’s surfaces, and smoke from the many candles burned in the church has contributed to this gradual and serious damage.

New leather.

Damaged leather
by black smoke
or soot.

Pieces taken from the bellows leather in April 2003. Corrosive black smoke, greasy and acid, has been attacking and causing splits and holes in the bellows, and the air-leaks and unwanted whistles and other malfunctions resulting mean that tuning, and CD recordings and concerts have been rendered impossible.

Analysis (at the district laboratory) of samples taken from the organ has shown that the deposits are made up of hydrocarbon and smoke of vegetal origin. The organ, which has “lungs” made of wood and leather, to blow “wind” into the pipes, has been behaving like a “vacuum hood”, sucking in the damagingly polluted air. The fine animal skins that make the organ bellows flexible and yet air-tight, are completely worn out. If the atmosphere in the church were clean and healthy, the organ would have functioned well and trouble-free for decades; but the pollution problem has crippled the organ long before that should have come to be. Use of the organ during Masses can only continue thanks to scotch tape on the worsening cracks!

Furthermore, the periodic penetration of water in the vault above the great 32-foot pedal reed is damaging the feet of those important (and expensive) pipes.

Numerous representations have been made to the town authorities (who own the church and the organ) by the organists of the parish (and others also) and by the organ-builders, but with no result. The repair of the bellows is postponed year after year. And although the parish has ceased to use candles of the type that has helped cause the damage, switching to smaller wax candles that are supposed to be less “smoky”, it has also increased the number of places where they can be burned!...

Françoise Pouradier Duteil
Alec Dingwall
Editor of the (British) Journal
of The Organ Club

Feb 12, 2007
Jean Convert, Valence, France.